We spend way too much on recidivism

April 19, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From the Tallahassee Democrat

There are many reasons the Legislature should embrace “smart justice” legislation, including significant benefits to public safety. But as the House and Senate get down to the nitty-gritty of adopting a final budget, there is an even more compelling reason: money. A lot of it.

The Florida Department of Corrections is working hard to eliminate a budget deficit that swelled to more than $95 million earlier this year. The Legislature and taxpayers have an obvious desire to reduce DOC spending without jeopardizing public safety. One area ripe for savings seems obvious to the Florida Smart Justice Alliance: recidivism. Simply put, the state of Florida is spending entirely too much money incarcerating the same people over and over again, without doing enough to make sure that, once they get out, they stay out.

How much is too much? Florida taxpayers are spending more than a quarter-billion dollars a year to incarcerate more than 14,000 “new” inmates who have been in prison at least once before. Overall, almost half of the state’s prison population is made up of repeat offenders, at a yearly cost of $799.5 million.

This is a big part of Florida’s corrections problem: We aren’t correcting inmates. In most cases, we are just incarcerating them.

Statistics and common sense tell us that, when a felon is arrested again, he probably has committed more than just the single crime that led to this most recent arrest. If the offender has a substance abuse issue, it’s likely there are numerous victims whose homes or cars were broken into to help fuel his habit. Why would we allow that to happen? We know these inmates have addictions, and we had them captured in our prisons for years — yet in most cases we did nothing to help them address their addictions.

This isn’t about being soft on crime or somehow excusing their criminal actions because of alcohol, drug or mental health problems. It’s about being smart on justice by using our resources to help break the cycle of crime, arrest, imprisonment, release … and crime again.

An excellent example of the need for a focused direction on treatment and education is House Judiciary Committee Chair Dennis Baxley’s bill (HB 7121) and its companion by Sen. Thad Altman (SB 1032), which would ensure that Florida-born inmates are able to receive a state-issued ID card or other form of identification when they leave prison. This seemingly small item is a crucial step in an ex-inmate’s effort to secure housing, a job or even a medical prescription refill. Since lack of a job can be one of the top problems for an ex-inmate, helping them in this regard will be of tremendous benefit for society. This can be done without a significant expenditure, and in exchange Florida could realize substantial savings.

Everyone wants a safer society. Florida’s overall crime and recidivism rates have been declining as a result of the state’s deserved reputation for “get tough” criminal justice policies, effective law enforcement and a change in Department of Corrections policies regarding technical violations of probation.

We now have an opportunity to lower these rates even further and realize dramatic cost savings, if we institute smart, intelligent policies that do not undercut the requirement that all prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

With Florida spending $255 million annually on re-offenders, we must consider a different approach. We must recognize that by providing treatment for more felons who have underlying issues, we can improve public safety and save considerable tax dollars. Intelligent alternatives can lead to the desired outcomes that taxpayers expect of our policymakers.

Electronic monitoring can help ensure public safety

April 19, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From St Petersburg Blog

The following is a guest op-ed from Barney Bishop III, the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, a statewide coalition of organizations committed to changes that make communities safer, save the taxpayers money and hold offenders accountable while helping them learn to live law-abiding lives.

Government’s first responsibility is to provide for the safety of its citizenry, and Florida has historically done an excellent job of protecting us from those who would do us harm. Along with effective law enforcement, a key component in Florida’s declining rate of violent crime is the state’s adherence to a rule that all felons must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before they can be released.

Since the vast majority of felons are going to be released back into our communities – 87 percent of them within five years, according to the head of Florida’s Department of Corrections – we need to use every tool available to ensure that they do not commit new crimes and create new victims. Technological advances can play a vital role in this effort, including Florida’s use of electronic monitoring (“ankle bracelets”) for some prisoners.

The Florida Smart Justice Alliance has consistently advocated for increased use of electronic monitoring.  We applaud Governor Rick Scott for his commitment to public safety in recommending that $7.5 million for work release inmates to be fitted with these devices whenever they work a job outside a secure facility.

Work release is part of a step-down system available to certain inmates, at the discretion of the Department of Corrections. The department conducts a careful classification and risk assessment, and then determines which inmates should be eligible for a job in the community as they near their end of sentence.  These inmates are housed at non-secure facilities, which are always located in urban areas around the state because that’s where the jobs are.

Prison inmates, both violent and non-violent, are coming back to live among us. The only question is whether, having served their time, they will return as law-abiding citizens or resume a life of crime. We can dramatically improve the odds of the first, better option by using tools and providing skills to help them succeed within our communities.

Work release is one of those tools, and electronic monitoring makes it a safer option. Most ankle bracelets are tamper-proof and can track an inmate within a few feet with state-of-the-art GPS technology, even inside a building. This means that if an inmate attempts to remove the bracelet or stray from where he is supposed to be, law enforcement can know quickly. While electronic monitoring by itself won’t prevent a work release inmate from committing a crime, by pinpointing his location at all times the device will make it almost impossible for him to argue that he was somewhere else at the time.

This issue is particularly important in populous counties like Pinellas, where Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Ed Hooper have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of the neighborhood around work release facilities.

In a recent pilot program by a non-profit provider of work release programs, not a single inmate deviated or attempted to remove his ankle bracelet during a 90-day test. Since there is no foolproof test to tell us conclusively who should and should not be allowed to work in the community before leaving prison, we must rely on such technological tools to help minimize the risk of danger.

We could improve the odds by requiring the department to allow only non-violent felons to be in work release programs.  But then what would we do with all the violent inmates who will be getting out with no education or job skills, and no realistic prospects for success? Are we supposed to deny them all opportunity to work and then just hope they successfully reintegrate themselves into society on their own?

The Smart Justice Alliance believes the best hope to protect society is to implement the Governor’s recommendation, making sure all work release inmates wear ankle bracelets whenever they are outside the facility. This will help keep them in their assigned locations, ensuring that public safety remains job number one for Florida government.

The Florida Senate has put the $7.5 million in its criminal justice budget.  The Florida Smart Justice Alliance is optimistic the House will do likewise, because failing to accept the Governor’s recommendation would put our citizens at greater risk. Nothing can be foolproof, but with electronic monitoring we will at least know that our state government did its best to keep us safe.

A smarter way to run Florida’s correctional system

April 18, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From the Miami Herald

There are many reasons the Legislature should embrace “Smart Justice” legislation, including significant benefits to public safety. But as the House and Senate get down to the nitty-gritty of adopting a final budget, there is an even more compelling reason: money. A lot of it.

The Florida Department of Corrections is working hard to eliminate a budget deficit that swelled to more than $95 million earlier this year. The Legislature and taxpayers have an obvious desire to reduce DOC spending without jeopardizing public safety. One area ripe for savings seems obvious to the Florida Smart Justice Alliance: recidivism. Simply put, the state of Florida is spending entirely too much money incarcerating the same people over and over again, without doing enough to make sure that once they get out, they stay out.

How much is too much? Florida taxpayers are spending more than a quarter-billion dollars a year to incarcerate more than 14,000 “new” inmates who had been in prison at least once before. Overall, almost half of the state’s prison population is made up of repeat offenders, at a yearly cost of $799.5 million.

This is a big part of Florida’s corrections problem: We aren’t correcting inmates. In most cases we are just incarcerating them. We can’t afford to do that anymore without providing treatment for underlying issues (so often, substance-abuse or mental-health issues) and educational/vocational services to help them live law-abiding lives once they are released.

Statistics and common sense tell us that when a previous felon is caught again, he has probably committed more than just the single crime that led to this most recent arrest. If the offender has a substance abuse issue, it’s likely there are numerous crime victims whose homes or cars were broken into to help fuel his drug habit. Why would we allow that to happen? We know these inmates have addictions, and we had them captured in our prisons for years – yet in most cases we did nothing to help them address their addictions.

This isn’t about being soft on crime, to somehow excuse their criminal actions because of alcohol, drug or mental health problems. It’s about being smart on justice by using our resources to help break the cycle of crime, arrest, imprisonment, release . . . and crime again.

An excellent example of the need for a focused direction on treatment and education is House Judiciary Committee Chair Dennis Baxley’s bill (HB 7121) and its companion by Sen. Thad Altman (SB 1032), which would ensure that Florida-born inmates are able to receive a state-issued ID card or other form of identification when they leave prison.

This seemingly small item is a crucial step in an ex-inmate’s effort to secure housing, a job or even a medical prescription refill. Since lack of a job can be one of the top problems for an ex-inmate, helping them in this regard will be of tremendous benefit for society. This can be done without a significant expenditure, and in exchange Florida could realize substantial savings.

Everyone wants a safer society. Florida’s overall crime and recidivism rates have been declining as a result of the state’s deserved reputation for “get tough” criminal justice policies, effective law enforcement and a change in Department of Corrections policies regarding technical violations of probation. We now have an opportunity to lower these rates even further and realize dramatic cost savings, if we institute smart, intelligent policies that do not undercut the requirement that all prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

With Florida spending $255 million annually on reoffenders, we must consider a different approach. We must recognize that by providing treatment for more felons who have underlying issues, we can improve public safety and save considerable tax dollars. Intelligent alternatives can lead to the desired outcomes that taxpayers expect of our policymakers.

Barney Bishop III is the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance.

Too much money spent on Florida’s repeat offenders

April 16, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From BizPacReview

With Too Much Spent on Recidivism, Florida Must Embrace a Different Way.

There are many reasons the Legislature should embrace Smart Justice legislation, including significant benefits to public safety. But as the House and Senate get down to the nitty-gritty of adopting a final budget, there is an even more compelling reason: money. A lot of it.

The Florida Department of Corrections is working hard to eliminate a budget deficit that swelled to more than $95 million earlier this year. The Legislature and taxpayers have an obvious desire to reduce DOC spending without jeopardizing public safety. One area ripe for savings seems obvious to theFlorida Smart Justice Alliancerecidivism. Simply put, the state of Florida is spending entirely too much money incarcerating the same people over and over again, without doing enough to make sure that once they get out, they stay out.

How much is too much? Florida taxpayers are spending more than a quarter-billion dollars a year to incarcerate more than 14,000 “new” inmates who had been in prison at least once before. Overall, almost half of the state’s prison population is made up of repeat offenders, at a yearly cost of $799.5 million.

This is a big part of Florida’s corrections problem: We aren’t correcting inmates. In most cases we are just incarcerating them. We can’t afford to do that anymore without providing treatment for underlying issues (so often, substance abuse or mental health issues) and educational/vocational services to help them live law-abiding lives once they are released.

Statistics and common sense tell us that when a previous felon is caught again, he has probably committed more than just the single crime that led to this most recent arrest. If the offender has a substance abuse issue, it’s likely there are numerous crime victims whose homes or cars were broken into to help fuel his drug habit. Why would we allow that to happen? We know these inmates have addictions, and we had them captured in our prisons for years – yet in most cases we did nothing to help them address their addictions.

This isn’t about being soft on crime, to somehow excuse their criminal actions because of alcohol, drug or mental health problems. It’s about being smart on justice by using our resources to help break the cycle of crime, arrest, imprisonment, release … and crime again.

An excellent example of the need for a focused direction on treatment and education is House Judiciary Committee Chair Dennis Baxley’s bill (HB 7121) and its companion by Senator Thad Altman (SB 1032), which would ensure that Florida-born inmates are able to receive a state issued ID card or other form of identification when they leave prison. This seemingly small item is a crucial step in an ex-inmate’s effort to secure housing, a job or even a medical prescription refill. Since lack of a job can be one of the top problems for an ex-inmate, helping them in this regard will be of tremendous benefit for society. This can be done without a significant expenditure, and in exchange Florida could realize substantial savings.

Everyone wants a safer society. Florida’s overall crime and recidivism rates have been declining as a result of the state’s deserved reputation for “get tough” criminal justice policies, effective law enforcement and a change in Department of Corrections policies regarding technical violations of probation. We now have an opportunity to lower these rates even further and realize dramatic cost savings, if we institute smart, intelligent policies that do not undercut the requirement that all prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

With Florida spending $255 million annually on reoffenders, we must consider a different approach. We must recognize that by providing treatment for more felons who have underlying issues, we can improve public safety and save considerable tax dollars. Intelligent alternatives can lead to the desired outcomes that taxpayers expect of our policymakers.

Florida’s 2013 Economic Yearbook

April 9, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News

- from Florida Trend, April 9, 2013

Also helping the region: Robotics, energy and development of new materials, says Barney Bishop, CEO of a consulting firm and former CEO of Associated Industries of Florida. What the region needs now, says Bishop, is manufacturing production. “We have a lot of young entrepreneurs coming out of FSU, FAMU and TCC who can start that manufacturing enterprise. And when you get manufacturing, you get the supply chain.” Among promising research-spawned enterprises, says John Fraser, executive director of FSU’s Office of Intellectual Property Development and Commercialization: Bing Energy, Prevacus, BioFront Technologies, BevShots, Sunnyland Solar and General Capacitor. “All are young, based on FSU technology, growing and adding employees.”

Senate Criminal Justice Approves Smart Justice Legislation

April 1, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –Florida’s Smart Justice legislative package won unanimous approval today from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, after members amended the bill to make it similar to a version advancing in the House. Senate Bill 1032 will expand in-prison and community-based behavioral health care treatment services for non-violent 3rd degree felons who don’t traffic or sell narcotics; help ensure that Florida-born inmates leave prison with an ID card or the information needed to secure one; and encourage the Department of Corrections to increase faith- and character-based services to inmates.

“By serving as the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Thad Altman is showing outstanding leadership on an important issue that affects every community and every Floridian,” said Barney Bishop III, president & CEO of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, which helped craft the legislation. “The ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ approach of the past has turned Florida’s prison gates into a revolving door, and this legislation will do a great deal to break the cycle of recidivism.”

Department of Corrections statistics show that 43 percent of inmates entering the prison system each year are reoffenders, yet fewer than one-fourth of released inmates received substance abuse or mental health counseling that could have helped them live law-abiding lives after their release. By working to break this pattern, the Smart Justice legislation will reduce recidivism, enhance public safety and save tax dollars. It does not alter the requirement that prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release.

Of the 100,000 inmates in Florida prisons, 40,000 are non-violent drug abusers who cost taxpayers more than $700 million each year. According to DOC statistics, private sector community-based drug treatment has a recidivism rate of 18 percent, nearly half of the DOC recidivism rate.  These compelling statistics are at the heart of Smart Justice, which is committed to finding ways to spend tax dollars more intelligently in order to produce the outcomes taxpayers expect.